Although his journey as a aspiring farmer hasn’t been a rosy one, Samuel Mokonoto now has some hope.
At 38, he struggles to find words to describe his journey, also made hard by the frustration of lack of funding.
“I sometimes think where I could be in life if I was not disabled. Most of my peers are far advanced in life and have made a success of themselves. When you try to do the same, you are hit with a disability tag,” he says with a drifting melancholy.
He was born without a left hand and limps gingerly through his 2-ha vegetation patch he is participant of Liston Agri Solutions training programme funded by National Skills Fund (NSF) at the Zvezda Game Lodge.
According to Siphiwe Zikalala of Zvezda NPO, he first heard about Samuel from a former business colleague and recruited him to be part of the National Skills Fubd (NSF) programme offered at his game resort, facilitated by Liston Agri Solutions.
“From my experience working in jewellery design, I could see that persons living with disabilities were mutli-skilled but there were no programs dedicated to them. I then looked to agriculture and saw that in many countries, people living with disabilities owned farms and it automatically clicked that we could do it here in South Africa,” he said.
Among the 25 learners training at the lodge, Samuel is the only one living with disability.
“Well, I am here to further my knowledge in plant production and quite remarkably, I cannot wait to go back and plough what I have learned in the programme,” Samuel said.
Born and bred in Mothotlung in the North West, Samuel said his area suffered from service delivery and there were few job opportunities. To keep sane, he started a vegetable garden since his youth days but took it seriously when he met his cooperative friend Dudu Khumalo.
“I always aspired to be a crop farmer and when Dudu came along, I was co-opted in an EPWP crop project. But after a year or so, the project collapsed but in 2014, Dudu and I started a cooperative. We did fairly well and sold our produce to informal markets and orphanages,” he adds.
Yet, Samuel is still haunted by what he calls the government’s response and inadequacy to fashion agricultural programs for people living with disabilities. Overall, he said, the national department of agriculture, land reform and rural development (DARLLD) had no visible programs or funding mechanisms for people with disabilities.
“I see there are women and youth awards in agriculture but nothing for people like us living with disability and feeding our communities. We are marginalised,” Samuel said.
By comparison, the Limpopo Department of Agriculture (LDA) appears to be the only province that covered disability programs.
In echoing Samuel’s words, Zikalala said he also noticed that much focus has been on youth and women with disabled people just mentioned in passing.
“Look through all government policies, people with disabilities are encouraged to apply but how many of those get grants and funding. A tiny number, and what does that say about our society? asked Zikalala.
The Department of Social Development (DSD) Policy and Services on Disability provided a blueprint on how departments must integrate disability in their policies, plans and strategies.
Samuel said he was aware of DSD policies but it was just ink on paper. “I cannot blame the government for my disability but to be denied an opportunity to advance my life is also disabling me. In most cases, wherever and whenever I apply, we are informed that due to the fact I receive a SASSA grant, I am not eligible for any funding.”
Zikalala concurred: “Look at your CASP, RECAP etc… when people living with disability apply, they are not included…for what, no one knows. I think society should start rallying around providing economic opportunities for people like Samuel.”
Through his NPO, Zikalala has already committed to help Samuel in setting up infrastructure and access market for his cooperative once he completes his NSF training.
“I thank NSF really, the Zikalala’s and the facilitators and the mentors. It is something to have a skill, knowing how and what works in planting and where to market it. The programme gave me renewed hope but it was still hard to accept the marginalisation by the government,” he added.